A Study On The Link Between Childhood Trauma And Adult Psychosis




A study carried out by Morgan et al., (2007) involved 390 individuals who had suffered a first episode of psychosis. It was found that, compared to individuals making up the control group, they were:

  • twice as likely to have experienced at least twelve months of separation from a parent before they had reached the age of sixteen years
  • three times more likely to have experienced the death of a parent
  • twelve times more likely to have experienced the death of their mother. (Morgan et al., 2007).

These findings held true even though the researchers controlled across the psychotic group and control group for parental mental illness. 

As might well be expected, it was also found that the younger the child was when s/he experienced separation from a parent, death of a parent or death of his/her mother the more severely psychiatrically unwell s/he was likely to become (compared to children who had been older when they experienced their loss) in later life.

The researchers also found that amongst the individuals who had lost a parent during their childhood and went on, in later life, to be diagnosed with schizophrenia (the most common psychotic illness) were, on average, two years younger (the average being just six years of age) compared to those in the control group.

What Can We Infer From The Above Findings?

The results of the research described above add further evidence to the view of the link between psychosis and environmental factors (specifically, in this case, childhood trauma) is of crucial importance.

Furthermore, given that the researchers controlled for parental mental illness across the psychotic group and control group, the theory that psychosis is primarily caused by the inheritance of faulty genes is further undermined.


An Israeli study’s (Read and Gumley, 2008) findings lend support to the above results. The Israeli study found that:

  • if a child was separated permanently from a parent or experienced the death of a parent before they had reached the age of eight years s/he was at significantly increased risk of suffering from schizophrenia in later life.


Morgan et al. (2007).Parental separation, loss and psychosis in different ethnic groups: a case-control study  Psychological Medicine, Page 1 of 9. Cambridge University Press
doi:10.1017/S0033291706009330 Printed in the United Kingdom

Read and Gumley, 2008. Can attachment theory help explain the relationship between childhood adversity and schizophrenia? Attachment: New directions in psychotherapy and relational psychoanalysis. 2, 1-35.

David Hosier BSc Hons, MSc, PGDE(FAHE).



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